Album Reviews

Bitchin Bajas & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties


The music of Will Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billie has always had a rusty quality to it, as if his songs were assembled with nuts and bolts that rattled as they moved, always slightly out of place yet somehow holding everything together. This has, by and large, lent to his previous releases having a consolatory quality, as if their rickety composition and his own quivering, fragile vocals provide some comforting projection of listeners’ most emotionally brittle, bare moments. That comforting aspect that has pervaded Oldham’s previous output has been given a far more meditative twist on his latest collaboration, one with experimental Chicago outfit Bitchin Bajas, a group whose music is based almost entirely in dizzying ambience and sparse repetition. The result is Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, a collection of 9 almost entirely percussionless tracks which rely instead on drones and embellishments to accompany Oldham’s mantras. Does this album succeed in becoming the ideal soundtrack to meditation? Do Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s repeated assurances across this record serve as a suitable substitute to sounds of the rainforest, running water and panpipes? Well… yeah. And as long as you don’t expect much else from this album, recorded over the course of one day, then you are sure to be absolutely delighted with it. Even more so if you are already a fan of long, hypnotic works by the likes of Steve Reich and Brian Eno.

The album’s introduction ‘May Life Throw You a Pleasant Curve’ sets the tone of for the rest of the record perfectly with trickling acoustic guitar, shaky loops reminiscent of The Books and gentle flute accompanying Oldham as he softly murmurs “You need a new environment, try Paris”. As the record progresses, the compositions each follow a similar format, with elements turning in and out of the ambient traffic while Prince Billy tells us in varying ways just how okay everything is and will be, most of those messages being conveyed in the piece’s titles themselves; ‘You Will Soon Discover How Truly Fortunate You Really Are’, ‘Show Your Love and Your Love Will Be Returned’.

Occasionally the tone does shift however, with ‘Your Heart is Pure, Your Mind Is Clear, Your Soul Devout’ feeling markedly more dissonant than the other cuts, giving it a haunting quality which at first may seem divergent from the album’s soothing motive, but soon comes to feel hypnotic and warming. The whole concept does seem to fall flat during the aggravatingly sparkly ‘You’re Not Superman’ however, on which fizzy soundscapes lend to a sense that you are listening to a bunch of people who have been drunk all day trying to explain to you the importance of saying “om”.

Ultimately, how much this album is to be enjoyed is purely down to the listener’s state of mind. A tense, clogged, overactive brain will find this record irritating and invasive. Conversely, to a mind that is willing to allow itself be soothed, tracks like ‘Despair is Criminal’ and ‘Your Whole Family Are Well’ have the capacity to take the listener into a place that is dreamlike, gossamer light and blissful. There are few circumstances outside of lying with one’s eyes closed in which this will feel like just the right album to listen to. But for those moments where the brain needs a gentle massage and a bit of an escape, Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties is as ideal trip as any. Eoin Murray